Search This Blog

02 November 2015

The Day that I was crowned

The Day that I was crowned
Was like the other Days —
Until the Coronation came —
And then — 'twas Otherwise —

As Carbon in the Coal
And Carbon in the Gem
Are One — and yet the former
Were dull for Diadem —

I rose, and all was plain —
But when the Day declined
Myself and It, in Majesty
Were equally — adorned —

The Grace that I — was chose —
To Me — surpassed the Crown
That was the Witness for the Grace —
'Twas even that 'twas Mine —
                            Fr613 (1863)  J356

While Scholar Barton Levi St. Armand thinks the poem is about the sun, I think it is about grace. Dickinson says as much in the final stanza. She was chosen by Grace, a concept rooted in Calvinism. In this branch of Christianity, very influential in Dickinson's time and place, only some people were elected for heaven. It was a heavenly favor, a grace rather than something earned. To suddenly be sure of your divine election would surely feel like a coronation; the knowledge would blaze like a glorious sunset.

Dickinson opens the poem in story-telling mode. The day that she was crowned began ordinarily enough. "All was plain". But somehow by day's end she was "adorned" in "Majesty", as transfigured as diamond from coal.

In regards to this, Sewall provides an illuminating excerpt (p.452-54) from one of Charles Wadsworth's sermons: "The value of a gem is not in its composition, but in its crystallization. Even the diamond is composed mainly of carbon, and differs from the black coal of our furnaces only in this transfiguration … But the spiritual man has through gracious crystallization become a gem, reflecting Divine light, and thus fitted for a diadem" (found in Richard Brandley's Emily Dickinson's Rich Conversation: Poetry, Phiulosophy, Science").
As Wadsworth points out, a "gracious crystallization" makes the redeemed soul fit for a crown. Dickinson was a great admirer of Wadsworth and read his sermons. And although this poem seems to emerge from the sermon, it is not entirely clear as to whether her crystallization was spiritual or imaginary, or whether she was using religious language to celebrate some other great transformation. Dickinson remains purposefully vague and ambiguous. There is no mention of heaven or God or Atman – or even the soul.

In the second two stanzas Dickinson leaves the carbon metaphor to end with a sunset analogy. The setting sun is adorned in majesty, its colors flaring across the heavens. The poem's speaker says that its glory was equal to her own. Ultimately, however, she deems the grace of being chosen as superior to the simpler adornment of the sun, the sky's crown. Dickinson even co-opts the sun, not only as a witness for her ascendency, but as dower. Sunset becomes hers: "'Twas even that 'twas Mine".
This vast claiming reminds me of Dickinson's proclamation in "I'm ceded – I've stopped being Theirs" (F353) where she says her childhood baptism was just something "They" did to her, but now she has "consciously, of Grace" been "Called to my Full", her "Existence's whole Arc, filled up". Both poems inhabit the liminal region where grace may be found or claimed or bestowed. Sometimes Dickinson claims the grace, as in "I'm Ceded"; sometimes she discovers it, as in this poem where she finds she is "chose". 


  1. Wonderful link to the Wadsworth sermon. Welcome back!

  2. Yay! You are back! And with a beautiful interpretation of this poem! I think that you are totally spot on, but I also wonder if there is a personal experience for Emily within this poem that we will never know about. Just one of those gut feelings...